Getting into an accident can be frustrating enough, but then finding out the person who hit you has no insurance can be another blow!
We continue our in depth look in “Part II: On The Road & Uninsured." Each year, thousands of people are injured or lose money because of uninsured drivers. In many cases, the victims are people who pay their own auto insurance premiums.
Even though many of the victims have uninsured and under-insured coverage on their plans, it's not always enough to cover all of the medical bills or lost property, not to mention the pain and sufferring.
It's been months since Tracy Dermody has had a simple day. The 32-year-old is still recovering from serious injuries, she's the victim of an uninsured driver. “I hit my face on her windshield and I slid across the cement into the curb and I screamed really loud and felt an instant burning.
It just completely changes your life, one minute you're happy, working, everything going smooth. The next minute you're mangled in the hospital, don't know if you're going to lose your house, don't know if you're going to lose your truck, your job,” adds Dermody.
Unfortunately, Tracy did lose her job, a hard hit for this independent woman, now stuck with huge medical bills on top of her regular bills.
“I've never fallen behind in payments. I fell behind on my mortgage, my truck,” says Dermody.
Hope Halasz can relate. Just last month, she was driving home, after class at IUSB. The next thing she remembers was waking up in a ditch on U.S. 31 in Lakeville. She too, the victim of an uninsured driver.
“My car spun around, I just remember going into the ditch, coming forward and hitting my head on some part of my car,” says Hope. “Just the emotional of getting the phone call that every parent dreads,” says Hope’s dad Jim. “That your son or daughter has been in an accident, racing up there to the scene. The picture of her car when I got out-- was oh gosh, she's ok.”
The trunk of Hope's car was pushed all the way into the back seat. Luckily, she made it out ok- but the family is stuck with medical bills and they're out the convenience of a vehicle. “What can you do?” asks Jim Halasz. “Because, you know, this guy is driving without a license, it's suspended, he has no insurance. There's three things right there, they shouldn't allow him to get in a vehicle.”
Five months since her accident, Tracy is now looking for a job and working with a lawyer to pay her bills. “My hospital stay alone was 15-thousand,” says Dermody. “I'm so lucky I have uninsured or under-insured. If not, all of the bills would fall on me. I could try to go after this lady, but if I'm the third person she hit, I'll probably get 20 bucks a week.”
You heard Tracy correctly, this is the third time the woman who hit her got in an accident. That woman not only walked away from the accident but the bills too. Tracy's lawyer Jeff Stesiak says the woman responsible was ticketed and fined for driving without insurance. And because the woman who hit her is uninsured, Stesiak says Tracy will only partially be reimbursed for damages and pain and sufferring.
“Is it a vicious cycle? I'd have to say yes,” says Stesiak.
So how can you protect yourself from uninsured drivers?
Insurance companies encourage you to look into getting uninsured and under-insured coverage on your insurance policy, if you don't have it already. Those plans vary from state-to-state, but usually don't cost that much to add on.
Looking back on their harrowing experiences behind the wheel, both Hope and Tracy hope those without insurance will think before they get behind the wheel again.
“The car can be replaced, all that can be, we can take care of the medical bills, the best thing- she's walking around, the car was bad- but it could have been a lot worse,” says Jim Halasz.
“Hello! I'm a victim, it does happen to people, you don't always get away with it! That's why the law is there, you need insurance, you never know what is going to happen,” adds Dermody.
Again, the hard part is there is no easy solution to this problem. From lawmakers to law enforcement, to insurance agents-- everyone we spoke with agrees that it's very difficult to find and keep uninsured drivers off the roads. Even though your rates typically don't go up if the accident is deemed not your fault-- everyone who pays insurance is paying for the uninsured.
Again, the best way to protect yourself: Talk to your auto insurance agent and figure out exactly what your auto insurance plan covers and practice defensive driving.